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Judge Ratifies Landmark Settlement

By Juliet McShannon
Staff Writer

Dec. 21 -- An Orange County Superior Court judge on Friday ratified a landmark settlement hashed out last month by the City and three major oil companies accused of contaminating Santa Monicaís drinking water.

Judge Stephen Sundvoldís verbal ruling in a Santa Ana courtroom, which still must be issued in writing to the parties, effectively forces Shell, Mobil and Chevron to pay $92.5 million to the City, as well as build and maintain a new water treatment facility.

The running costs of building and maintaining the state-of-the-art facility could escalate to anywhere between $150 to $500 million, according to City officials. The ruling also includes the approval of a $5 million and $6 million settlement to be awarded to the City by Unocal and Tosco Oil companies respectively.

The courtís decision was an early Christmas present to the City, which expected a ruling in January.

"Weíre one step closer to getting the money and the water treatment plant," said City Attorney Marsha Moutrie. "Itís very significant to us and we expected it to happen."

The approved settlement is the culmination of the City's three year lawsuit against more than a dozen oil companies accused of contaminating five of the cityís 11 water wells with a gasoline additive that leaked from their underground storage tanks.

The City's suit drew national attention and helped lead to a California ban that takes effect January 1 on the oil additive Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether (MTBE).

Litigation, however, will be vigorously pursued against the remaining oil companies, including Lyondell, manufacturer of the MTBE, which has so far decided not to settle, according to City officials.

Although Lyondell may still appeal Friday's ruling, Assistant City Attorney Joseph Lawrence said he is happy that "the long ordeal has ended and that the City can finally begin the hard but joyful process of cleaning up its water."

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